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DOT Joins GW University at Ballou High School for Service Project to Honor Martin Luther King

by Ray LaHood

This post originally appeared on the Department of Transportation blog, FastLane, on January 18, 2011.

For several years now, volunteers from the Department of Transportation have observed the Martin Luther King holiday with "a day on, not a day off." And yesterday, many from DOT did so once again by working on a terrific beautification project at Ballou High School here in Washington, DC.

I thank them for their service. And I thank project organizer Ruth Jones, Ballou's Director of Resource Development, for inviting us.

I also want to thank Melody Barnes, Director of President Obama's Domestic Policy Council, for joining us and for reminding us of Dr. King's message that, "Everyone can be great because anyone can serve."

As impressed as I was with the DOT showing, I have to admit that the hundreds of students who pitched in from George Washington University -- including University President Steven Knapp -- represented their school in splendid force.

I'm pleased that so many DOT colleagues turned out, and I'm particularly happy that we were able to play a small part in the remarkable transformation going on at Ballou.

When we heard about the beautification project taking place at Ballou, we at the Department of Transportation couldn't pass up this opportunity to further cement what is already a special relationship. A year ago, a group of DOT volunteers began mentoring young women from Ballou in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and introducing them to the work we do.

While this relationship helps the young women strengthen their command of the key STEM subjects, it also helps us introduce the idea of transportation careers to our mentees.

And, believe me, the students at Ballou High School today are thinking ahead. As Ballou Principal Rahman Branch said yesterday, "When Ballou students walk across that stage at graduation, they are not just happy to get their diplomas; they carry with them a plan for the future."

Everywhere we looked at Ballou, we saw evidence of that. From the school's mission--to prepare nationally competitive students for college and careers--to the inspiring quotes and college logos painted on the school walls, Ballou students are going to school in the kind of environment that inspires and helps students keep their head in the game.

This is no easy task. As Principal Branch noted, "For our students, the walk from their front doors to Ballou is not a walk many would want to take once, let alone every day."

But Ballou High School is transforming itself and transforming its Congress Heights community. As Dr. King said, "Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless effort and persistent work of dedicated individuals."

So, even as the volunteers from DOT and GW were doing some heavy lifting at Ballou and honoring Dr. King with their service, they were really honoring the students, parents, and faculty of Ballou and the truly heavy lifting they are doing each and every day.

Ray LaHood is the current U.S. Secretary for Transportation.

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